Recital Hall, Mannes School of Music
November 19, 2010
Most music teachers start out as performers on the piano, guitar, violin, whatever instruments they’ve majored on. Often though, having settled into academe, they lose their chops. I’ve known teachers who were brilliant at producing excellent students but can’t be persuaded to perform, citing lack of practice time, exams to be graded, or sadly, stage fright.
Diane Walsh is a pianist who joined the faculty of Mannes School of Music in 1982. She has led complementary careers as a concert performer and as a teacher. In a high-end institution like Mannes, you must constantly show your mettle and continuous fluency in your chosen musical instrument. A dictum in institutions of higher learning is: publish or perish. In more crass terms: show me the money.
Ms. Walsh showed the money all right, and then some.
She devoted the first part of her programme to pieces by Liszt – and not just the usual suspects (Liebestraum, Hungarian Rhapsodies etc) but the more meditative pieces: Vallee d’Obermann from Anneés de Pelerinage, Sonetto 104 del Petrarcha, and Valse Oublieé #1. Having attempted some Liszt myself, I could only sit in awe at Madame Walsh’s command of the piano in regard to these pieces. For instance, she played Liszt’s transcription of Paganini’s La Campanella, not the original version, which is technically difficult enough, but the re-arrangement by Feruccio Busoni, one of those fin de siècle piano virtuosos who took a look at a Chopin or Liszt piece and thought:”Wouldn’t it be great if I can re-arrange these lovelies so that nobody can play them except me?” In fact, one such person, Leopold Godowsky, re-arranged Chopin’s etudes to make them even more difficult to play thus to show off his pianistic prowess. Little wonder these versions are rarely played today.
Busoni’s version of La Campanella, though requiring intense technique, is still played today. Ms. Walsh played this version with verve and power. I noticed one or two instances of jumbled passages, but that's live performance for you. I personally would be happy to muddle through that one piece, nuances or no.
Ms. Walsh, who is slim, and dignified attacked the Liszt pieces with a force and technical prowess that belied her seemingly fragile frame. Liszt has often been accused of being not as profound as Chopin or Schumann because he filled his compositions with frilly runs that served only to show off a pianist’s skill. However, Liszt’s frilly runs, showy as they are, require fingers of steel wrapped in velvet. Ms. Walsh had fingers of this kind plus the intelligence and sensitivity to bring out the song in the music, delineating the melodies and countermelodies with clarity and feeling.
The second half of Ms. Walsh already weighty programme was devoted to just one piece, Robert Schumann’s Fantasie in C Op 17. It is in three movements, the first being quite emotional and rhapsodic, the second a rondo with a march like quality requiring much finger extensions, and the last one is meditative. This was the first time I heard this piece. It sounded totally Schumannesque to me: lush chords, romantic melodies that didn’t really grab me immediately and sweet in a Germanic way –if that makes sense. Schumann died an insane man but before he died, he left behind a body of music as compelling as Chopin’s, though I must confess Chopin is way ahead of him in hummable lyricism.Still, who hasn't played or listened to his Traumerei without feeling emotional at one time or another?
A big bravo to Diane Walsh for this pleasurable evening of scintillating Liszt and profound Schumann.
To learn more about Diane Walsh, you can go to her website: